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Archive for the ‘Comic Book Movies’ Category

X-Men Franchise Re-Watch

I have spent the last few days re-watching the X-Men movies, here are a few thoughts.  The MCU has reshaped cinema, nine of the twenty  movies have grossed over $1billion.  Their success is responsible, not only for imitators, but also setting a new benchmark for film budgets, and what is deemed successful.  Back when a comic book movie looked like Batman & Robin (1997) this would not have seemed possible.  A series of events, or to be more precise films set the foundations that made the MCU possible.  I believe it started in 1998 with Blade, but there are two other franchises that were the key stepping stones: Spider-Man starting in 2002, and X-Men franchise starting in 2000.  At the time I knew the X-Men better than most MCU characters, I’m sure the same is true for a lot of viewers.  From that point of view, it was probably a safer franchise to begin with.  But they still started off small with relatively small budgets.  After all, none of the X-Men were as big or well known as DC’s big hitters, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, or Marvels big two, Spider-Man, and The Hulk! It’s worth remembering, this is all before Marvel Studios, when Marvel properties were made by other companies under complicated licence agreements that are still being unpicked to this day.  The X-Men movies were co-productions between Marvel Entertainment and 20th Century Fox.   Marvel, 20th Century Fox, and lots of companies are now owned by The Walt Disney Studios.  That’s enough of the business, what about the movies? Here goes:

X-Men (2000) – The first movie X-Men was limited by a relatively small budget.  While $75million is a lot of money (think how many indie movies you could make for that), it is relatively small by blockbuster standards, around half that of The World Is Not Enough (1999), the most recent Bond film at the time.  The financial limitations probably helped with the creativity of writer/direct Bryan Singer, and he his co-writers David Hayter, and Tom SeSanto.  There are a few key reasons the film works: The story starts with the X-Men as a established group, not an origin story.  But we as the viewers have a way into both the world of the X-Men (both the group, and the world they inhabit) with minimal exposition.  We are introduced via Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin).

With a vast array of characters within the comic book universe all with their own abilities, it would have been easy to flood the story with them.  Partly due to the limited budget the groups are kept small, with the X-Men consisting of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Storm(Halle Berry), and Cyclops (James Marsden).  The Brotherhood of Mutants are Magneto (Ian McKellen), Mystique(Rebecca Romijn), Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), and Toad (Ray Park).  This restraint and the benefit of is shown in later films when the cast gets bloated and it detracts from the story.  This leads nicely onto the next point, the casting is perfect throughout, with a special mention for Stewart, McKellen and Jackman.  The real revelation is Hugh Jackman, a late replacement for Dougray Scott who was stuck doing reshoots on Mission: Impossible II (2000).  At 6’2″ Jackman is a foot taller than the character in the comic book, this is never an issue.  At the time of the first movie, he was a relative unknown, the only thing I had seen him in at the dime was Paperback Hero, a romantic comedy drama.

The plot is relatively simple in a world that is just learning about mutants, but doesn’t accept them there are two opposing views Xavier who believes humans and mutants can live together, and Magneto who believes mutants are superior and should rule the world.  The film is filled with all the ideas that are at the heart of the comic books, the most overt of those are acceptance for people who are perceived to be different.  That people are stronger when they work together as a team.  There is also a recurring idea that no one is all bad, this depicted by Charles’ refusal to give up on Eric/Magneto, and significantly Charles winning in a game of chess.

X2 (2003) – The X-Men were back just two years later, again with Bryan Singer at the helm.  There are two references to the Arthurian novel The Once and Future King (1958) by T.H. White.  Firstly we see Eric/Magneto reading it early in the movie, then at the end Charles asks his class of they know of the story.  While not a blueprint for the X-Men, or the movie X2, there are similarities.  Charles’ School is clearly Camelot, and the X-Men the Knights of the round table.  But who is who.  Charles is not Arthur as you may first think, he is Merlin.  We see in both this and the first film other taking the public lead, such as when Jean Grey address government.  Charles is the power in the background, he also fights with his mind not with his body.  We then have the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. Cyclops, Storm and Logan.  Most importantly, in this sits Magneto.  But who is Magneto in this analogy?  He is probably a combination of Morgan le Fay (Sorceress, half-sister and sometime ally, sometimes antagonist of Arthur.  Mother of Mordred) and Mordred (Arthur’s illegitimate son who ultimately kills and is killed by Arthur), but who he is, is less important than who he thinks he is! He believes himself to be Merlin and/or Arthur, he even has his own round-table in the form of the Brotherhood of Mutants.  But he can never be Arthur, as his table is never truly round, he is always at the head of it!

Longer and with a higher budget, it is the step up you expect from a sequel.  The story is a little more complicated both telling its own story, and delving into Logan’s back story.  With a new antagonist, Magneto teams up with Charles and X-Men.  This is one of the most interesting things about the film, the filmmakers understand the character.  Magneto never goes all the way to Charles’ side, they team up to fight a mutual enemy, but he is always on his own side, or more accurately on the side of mutants, at least from his own point of view.  The visual effects also go up a notch.  Amazingly this does not come at a cost, the film is as good, potentially better than the first film.  The notable additions to the cast are Alan Cumming as Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler.  Brian Cox as Colonel William Stryker and Kelly Hu as Yuriko Oyama aka Lady Deathstrike (I don’t think she is actually referred to by this name in the film).

X-Men: The Last Stand (2009) – Bryan Singer left the franchise to make the oh, so dull Superman Returns and handed directing duties to Brett Ratner.  Although not as bad as I remember, the film isn’t great.  To the credit of the earlier films, recognising that film is its own medium, they did not use existing stories from the comic books, they created cinematic ones in keeping with the mythology of the characters.  The biggest issue with this film, they took a beloved story, “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and developed it, poorly!

The centre of the plot revolves around a “cure” to the mutant gene.  This results in some interesting questions, the most overt being the mutants being a metaphor for homosexuality and the idea that you can’t cure someone who isn’t sick! while touched upon, it is never really explored.  The plot is unnecessarily  bloated, as is the cast of characters.  To its credit, the film looks good, and the visual effects are good, except the de-ageing of Stewart and McKellen that may have been groundbreaking in its day but is truly horrific.

As the previous films worked for their efficient use of characters, this film is dragged back by them, and the need to give them something to do.  Even killing two major characters, and sidelining two more early in the story there are still too many.  The most notable addition to the cast was Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, a mutant with an ability to walk through walls, or to be precise through just about anything.  Not a new character having had a small part in previous films, but a huge character within the comic books, and portrayed by Page who was on the cusp of superstardom.  As with the comic books, by the time the film was make Logan/Wolverine had become the fans favourite.  In the first film he was the main character (although it could easily have been made Rogue’s film).  The second film had a plot that easily put him to the for front, but here, it always feels forced.  It was clear, Wolverine needed is own movie, and the X-Men needed a to tell a story without him.  Both of these were to come, to good and bad effect!

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – While I had seen the first two movies many times, and The Last Stand twice, this was my first re-watch of Wolverine.  After a cold open showing the origin of Logan, and Victor Creed/Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), we get the best part of the film.  The opening credit sequence is truly excellent.  Showing the brothers Logan and Creed fighting together in the American Civil War, WWI, WWI and Vietnam; each time showing Creed getting more bloodthirsty.  The first act with the pair fighting as part of Team X led by Major William Stryker (same character as Colonel Stryker from X2, now played by Danny Huston).  This is brief but good as is the set-up as we see Logan try to live a normal life also works, it is when he gets his adamantium, once Logan becomes Wolverine/Weapon X that the film loses its way.

This is the film that introduces Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) to cinema audiences.  Referred to as Wade Wilson, Weapon XI, and Deadpool, this is the movie that infuriated the fans.  Understandably as it is a million miles from ” the merc with a mouth”.  This is unfortunate, in the early scenes show promise, after they sewed his mouth shut, it was never going to work! Taylor Kitsch’s Remy LeBeau/Gambit isn’t as far from the comic book character, but still isn’t great.  Over a decade later,  the idea of a Taylor Kitsch Gambit movie still keeps comes up every few years but has never happened.  Liev Schreiber is very good as Creed, and would probably have made a really good Logan.

An interesting point of note is the use of the Three Mile Island accident.  This is the first, but not the last time the franchise incorporated real events within the narrative.  The fact that the first (nearly) half of the film is good, but is persevered to be terrible proves the theory that a good final act can save (our perception) of a film, and a poor ending will destroy a film.

X-Men: First Class (2011) – After eleven years, two good, and two not so good movies the franchise took a new direction.  Matthew Vaughn steps into the director’s chair and wrote the screenplay along with Jane Goldman, Ashley Miller, and Zack Stentz.  Expanding on the opening of the first movie with a young Eric/Magneto discovering his powers in Nazi-occupied Poland tells us we are in the same universe as the original films.  Recasting with younger actors and telling the origin story of both The X-Men, and Magneto.  Following the previous films use of Mile Island accident, this film doubles down, and uses The Cuban Missile Crisis.  James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes off Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as younger versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, they are both excellent, particularly Fassbender.  There is more than a hint of James Bond about the 1960’s setting.  Every time I see the film I think how good Michael Fassbender would be as Bond.  The film also gives a new and interesting take on Mystique’s origin and her relationship with both Xavier and Magneto.  With hindsight she is the most interesting casting; it was Jennifer Lawrence’s first big budget movie, when she only had one Oscar nomination (Winter’s Bone), and before The Hunger Games.  The main antagonists are Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and in true Bond Villain style his henchwoman Emma Frost (January Jones).  Rose Byrne gets to have fun as Moira MacTaggert, it’s a shame she is so underused in future films.

There are so many things about the film that shouldn’t work from the training montages, the period setting, playing with history, and the actors playing a version of the characters to fit with the older versions; but strangely it does work making it one of the best films of the series.

The Wolverine (2013) –  Just over a year after taking part in the Normandy landings, Logan finds himself as a prisoner of war in Nagasaki in August 9 1945, not the time you want to be in Nagasaki.  Most of the film is set in the present day, after the events of The Last Stand.  Following the events in Nagasaki seen at the start of the movie, Logan finds himself in Tokyo.  This is no great stretch for the character, within the comic book Logan has a lot of stories set in Japan and is closely associated with Samurai and Ronin culture, the character has always essentially been a Ronin.

The most stand alone movie in the franchise up to this point, none of the characters introduced appear again, the only character from previous movies is Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who appears in Logan’s head.  The most interesting of the rest of the cast are the only other mutants to appear in the film (other than a cameo).  Yukio (Rila Fukushima) A precognitive mutant and member of a deadly assassins clan.  And, Dr. Green / Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) one of the movies main antagonists.

A personal story for Logan on a smaller scale than the other movies within the universe, it is more in keeping with a standalone story.  Logan’s “healing factor” has always been his key to his identity, to take that away should diminish the character, in a way it does, but in doing so, it actually enhances the film by raising the stakes.  The whole film, both in plot, and execution feels more grounded and real (until the final act) than previous films in the franchise.  The Shinkansen fight is excellent. Sadly, the final act is terrible, both in story and visual effects, but the MCU struggles with final acts too, so it isn’t exactly unique!

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Days of Future Past sounds like a terrible idea.  Bring the old cast, last seen in The Last Stand, together with the new cast of First Class, and tell a much loved epic tale from the X-Men comic books. However, it really works and is if not the best, close to the best movie in the franchise.  Simon Kinberg provided the screenplay, based on a story by himself along with Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn.  Vaughn was set to direct but agreed to hand it back to the boss, producer and director of the first two movies Bryan Singer.  Understanding that cinema is a very different medium to comic books, the writers took the brave, but ultimately correct decision to not tell the same story as the comic book.  Using a lot of the same characters, and using the idea of travelling back in time to prevent an assignation in the past to save the present/future.

The cast is huge: The bulk of the movie taking place in 1973 with Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Raven / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and Hank / Beast (Nicholas Hoult).  All are given plenty to do, and most importantly is in keeping with their character, nobody is making up the numbers.  In the furure section we have lots of recognisable characters Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman – who due to the characters slow aging is able to play the part in past and future), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Storm (Halle Berry), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Bobby / Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore).  They are joined by Bishop (Omar Sy), Blink (Bingbing Fan), Sunspot (Adan Canto), and Warpath (Booboo Stewart).  The past section also includes a small part for Peter / Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who in one scene steals the movie.

The film looks, and sounds spectacular.  The visual effects are the best we have seen within the franchise, and the photography and production design are both fantastic.  Thanks to changes in the timeline, this film undoes a lot of the narrative of the previous movies leaving (two in particular) of the original characters in a better place than we last saw them.  Given this was the last time the majority of them were to be used in the franchise, this is great fan service without pandering.   The story also leaves the door open to make future stories easier without having to worry about the fitting the continuity,  Sadly they didn’t exactly make the most of it.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – Be careful what you wish for, The Empire review of Days of Future Past ends with the line “We want X-Men: Apocalypse, now.” Sadly the film is terrible, in many ways the weakest X-Men movie.

Oscar Isaac plays the title villain, En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse.  He is hid beneath lots of CGI and makeup, and frankly isn’t very good. Fan favourite from the comics Psylocke (Olivia Munn) is given a sexy outfit, but no character.  She is given more to do than Mei Melançon did in The Last Stand, we know nothing of her.  Even the outfit doesn’t work, it looks like it doe on the pages of the comic book, but not in the flesh.  And that’s kind of the problem with the film it is all big, bold bright, and brash, you would be forgiven for thinking Michael Bay had directed it, it was actually Bryan Singer.  And that’s the sad thing about it, we know Singer can do so much better,  Michael Fassbender gets a couple of brilliant moments that remind us of this.

The cast is huge again.  As well as the usual suspects, Lucas Till, who sat out the last movie returns as Alex Summers / Havok.  He is joined by new younger versions of characters we have seen in the original three movies: Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers / Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Ororo Munroe / Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) Kodi Smit-McPhee, and I believe for the first time in the movies Jubilee (Lana Condor). Evan Peters gets to do another set piece as Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver, taken on its own merit, it is the best seen in the movie, but offers nothing new, and isn’t as good as what we saw in the last movie.  There is no place for Wolverine within the corner they have painted themselves into with the timeline; rather than embracing this they squeeze him into the story.

The bigger, bolder and brasher it got the less I cared about it.  A sad end to Bryan Singer’s time at the helm of the X-Universe!  Let’s it to one side and remember the three great films he gave us.

Logan (2017) – Firstly, it is worth mentioning, for my re-view, I watched Logan Noir, the black and white version that comes on a separate disk with the Blu-Ray version.  It’s the first time I have watched it this way.  While it isn’t as spectacular as Fury Road: Black and Chrome, it does add to the atmosphere of the movie, and what a movie!  While I have described Days of Future Past as the best X-Men movie, Logan is something different, in a lot of ways, it isn’t an X-Men movie, it doesn’t even look like a comic book movie.  Written (along with Scott Frank and Michael Green) and directed by James Mangold who was also responsible for the previous movie, The Wolverine.  Not only is this Logan’s  most personal story, it is also the most grounded movie within the X-Men universe.  The cinematography by long-time Ridley Scott collaborator John Mathieson is fantastic (in both black and white or colour).  The low angles give a feeling of space reminiscent of with a western.  This is further enhanced by big mood skies straight out of an Ansel Adams photograph.

Set in a post super hero universe where very few mutants remain, and a 90 year old Professor X and Logan are the last of the X-Men.  Charles is struggling to contain his powers and Logan’s powers are fading as he is poisoned by his Adamantium.  There is often a theme in movies like this where the hero has to balance their own survival with a reluctant search for redemption associated with helping somebody else.   This comes in the form of Laura (Dafne Keen – who went on to play Lyra Belacqua in His Dark materials) recognisable to comic book fans as X23, a young mutant with abilities with a striking resemblance to Logan’s.  Richard E. Grant is wonderfully sinister as the movies main villain Dr. Rice.  Other notsble cast members are Boyd Holbrook as Pierce, the main henchman, and Stephen Merchant as Caliban, a mutant friend of Charles and Logan.

This isn’t a comic book movie for all.  New fans of the genre, those who have come along since the start of the MCU, and DCEU will not find what they are used to.  But it’s the comic book movie we need, one that doesn’t end with a giant something hovering over a major city threatening to destroy the world.  The stakes may be smaller, but not for those involved, making it more personal, and relatable.  Even before the Disney takeover, Hugh Jackman had decided to end his time as Logan/Wolverine, this is a brilliant and fitting end to his seventeen years portraying the character, he is going to be a hard act to follow in the inevitable remake.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) – OK, time to confess, I didn’t re-watch all the movies.  Its less than a year since I saw Dark Phoenix.  It is only available to me by rental, which I wasn’t prepared to pay for as quite frankly, it wasn’t very good.  This is a real shame, it represented so much: The final film in both the reboot since First Class, and of the whole franchise before Marvel/Disney take back the franchise, But most importantly a chance to undo The Last Stand, and tell a better version of the Dark Phoenix Saga.  Most of the cast of the last movie return including Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender, they are all good.  But Jessica Chastain is totally wasted.  This won’t be the last time we see the X-Men, but it is most likely the last time we see these actors portray them, the deserved a better send-off.DEADPOOL

Depending on your point of view, the bonkers, but brilliant Deadpool (2016), and the pretty good sequel Deadpool 2 (2018) may be set within the X-Men universe, but that’s for another day.

As mentioned, last year The Walt Disney Company acquired 20th Century Fox, and with it the film rights for the X-Men.  They soon put all film production within the franchise on hold, eventually cancelling all future films except The New Mutants which was already in the can.  The New Mutants is yet so see the light of day following multiple delays and some re-shoots.  This is despite a 2017 trailer promising a release date April the following year.  Its a great shame as the trailer actually looks good, more of a haunted house horror than a superhero movie.  The two most interesting projects to be cancelled were: X-23; James Mangold was to write and direct the continuing story of Laura aka X-23 from them movie Logan.  And, a Kitty Pryde movie.  Had it been made, it would probably have been an origin story as studios seem to like, if that was the case, it is no great loss, but if they were thinking of a stand alone movie with the character from the existing franchise played by Ellen Page, that would have been worth seeing.  Sadly it is not to be!  There will be new X-Men movies made by Marvel/Disney, I just hope they keep them out of the MCU, as the franchises are probably best not mixed.

 

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We have spent a lot of the 21st century gazing at the stars, or at least CGI versions of them.  The century started with the second and third movies in the Star Wars prequels trilogy, Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005).  A series of films that are constantly being revaluated, I’m not sure if they are officially good or bad at the moment.  Star Trek ran out of steam, with the last movie from the Next Generation Crew Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) not being very good.  But then in J. J. Abrams came along and with the help of some wibbily wobbly timey wimey stuff (if I may quote a TV series in an article about movies) created a new timeline to retell the story of the original crew of the enterprise.  The first film Star Trek (2009) was excellent, the second Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), then Abrams jumped ship and the third film Star Trek Beyond (2016) directed by Justin Lin was a partial return to form.  There may be a fourth film in the series eventually, it keeps getting pushed back or going into turnaround.  There may also be a further film in the universe that by Quentin Tarantino, that is looking less and less likely. Star Trek Wars

The reason J. J. Abrams jumped (space)ship, was to go and work for the enemy, Star Wars.  The director of the first and final movies in a new trilogy, a third and final trilogy to bring the Skywalker saga to an end.  The films came about after Disney’s acquisition of Lucas Film (for a staggering amount of money).  All three films have their fans and detractors in a hugely polarized and quite amusing social media battle among a certain type of fanboy.  For me, the middle film, The Last Jedi (2017) written and directed  by Rian Johnson is the best (and the most controversial).  The Force Awakens (2015) is the safest of the three, but good fun and it introduces some great characters, and brings back some old favourites.  The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is certainly the weakest but is still good fun and gets to a satisfying end (except for that certain group of fanboys).  Along the way, we also got two Star Wars Anthology films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) tells the story of the events leading up to the origonal 1977 film, and for me is the best film outside the original trilogy.  The flipside to that, Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is totally unnecessary origin story of fan favourite Han Solo.  it isn’t terrible, just pointless.The end of the Skywalker sagaNot satisfied with just Star Wars, Disney went to space with their other big acquired property: Marvel.  They started in 2014 when they took a less well know Marvel property Guardians of the Galaxy and had a smash hit with a more, fun and comic take on the superhero genre.  a sequel Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017) followed.  To be fair parts of The Avengers movies were also set in space, and Thor is from another planet.  It wasn’t until Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Taika Waititi’s brilliant but bonkers take on the character that you would call it a space adventure.  After a decade, and about 20 movies Disney finally gave a woman a leading role in a Marvel movie.  While a lot of the movie is based on earth, Captain Marvel (2019) is an intergalactic character, as is Marvels big bad Thanos.  All the characters of the MCU came together to fight an intergalactic battle with the big purple one in Avengers Infinity War (2018) and the biggest film of all time (if you don’t adjust for inflation) Avengers Endgame 2019.  That brings us nicely onto Avatar (2009), with an even higher boxoffice if you adjust for inflation.  James Cameron’s first movie since 1997 when he made a little film about a shipwreck.  As you would expect from Cameron, it made great advances in effects and technology, especially in 3D.  I am not a fan.  As yet he hasn’t made another film yet, but understand he is filming about 100 sequels back to back with the first due for release in about two years. Marvel goes to spaceDC’s ventures into space were less successful.  The Green Lantern (2011) about a group of intergalactic supper powered policemen was rubbish.  Man of Steel (2013) was a reboot of a 1970’s movie about a man called Kal-El who is sent to earth as a baby before his home planet is destroyed.  He ends up fighting against bodies from his home world.  It isn’t bad, but not as good as the 1978, and 1980 movies, and like those movies, all subsequent sequels are terrible. DC and AliensRidley Scott decided that we were all wrong, the most interesting thing about his Movie Alien (1979), and James Cameron’s sequel to it Aliens (1987), wasn’t the Xenomorph, or Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.  It wasn’t the brilliant world building of the story where corporations are more powerful than countries.  He decided the derelict alien ship, and how the Aliens got there was more important.  He then gave us two extremely average films, Prometheus (2012), and Alien Covenant (2017).  There are some excellent characters that aren’t used very well, and some who don’t know how to run to the side.  almost realLets not be too tough on Ridley Scott, he has given us an excellent movie in the genre, The Martian (2015).  The story of a man left behind on Mars.  This is part of a crop of Sci-Fi movies that feel more realistic and closer to where we are now than Star Wars or Star Trek.  The pick of these for me was Gravity (2013).  A film so spectacular in IMAX 3D (the only good 3D experience I have had) that I have not re-watched it again, it just won’t be the same on TV.  Other films in this sub genre could include Christopher Nolan’s excellent Interstellar (2014), Danny Boyle’s underrated Sunshine (2007), Claire Denis bleak but brilliant High Life (2018), and James Gray’s disappointing Ad Astra (2019).   A film doesn’t have to be fiction, or particularly outlandish to be compelling, providing it is told well, and there are two such examples from the last two years: Damien Chazelle’s telling of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong in the film First Man (2018), and the documentary on the same subject: Apollo 11 (2019).  The latter is breathtaking look at the mission using stunning NASA images, no talking heads, or voiceover. smerfs monkeys aliens and the sunI wouldn’t include Passengers (2016) in the list of realist sci-fi movies, as it is too glossy and Sci-Fi, it is however worth seeing for the interesting plot, that is more disturbing the more you think about it.  Part of the premise of the film is people in hypersleep on their way to a distant planet.  Obviously something always goes wrong in these movies.  Others worth watching are: Pandorum (2009) a film that takes these ideas, and gives them a horror and survival adventure spin.  Pitch Black (2000) is an even better take on the horror space adventure, possibly the best and most original since the first two Alien films.  It’s sequel The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), was terrible, but the third film Riddick (2013) isn’t bad, although its attempt to recreate the original are a little forced.  Life (2017) has the almost real world setting, a fictionalised version of The International Space Station, it rapidly turns into Alien when an alien life form gets loose.  It isn’t Alien, but it isn’t bad. Horror in spaceThe man who gave us The Fifth Element (1997) Luc Besson, was back this century, with another bold and bonkers tale: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017).  The film had mixed reviews, as Besson’s work often does, I liked it.  The title is a little misleading and under serves one of its characters, based on the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline; Laureline is the more interesting character and probably has a larger part in the story than Valérian.  That asside, it is bright and bold and like nothing else, except maybe The Fifth Element!a mix of fact and fantasy (1)Saving the best for last.  When I went to see Joss Whedon’s Serenity (2005), I had not seen (or even heard of) Firefly, I have since watched the whole (short) series more than once.  The movie is nothing short of a masterpiece.  It works whether you have seen the TV show or not.  It is all the more impressive, as it was Whedon’s feature debut as a director.  The budget was less than $40million or about a quarter of Revenge of the Sith that came out the same year.  This doesn’t show, as the film looks amazing, largely thanks to clever photography and practice sets/effects over CGI.  Ticking every box for a space adventure, and a western, the film is fun, and often very funny, but there is a far deeper message about society, about right and wrong, but it is far more nuanced than anything you will get from Disney or Star Wars, it isn’t black and white, or light and dark, The Alliance is not The Empire!SerenityI have probably missed lots, but these are the ones that spring to mind.  I pleased to say the genre is in good health at the movies, and on TV, but that will have to be an entire article in itself. 

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As I’m sure you have heard, since the launch of Disney+ all Marvel TV shows on other networks are coming to an end.  This seems like a good time to have a quick look back at the TV shows based in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).  It is worth noting that none of these shows had any impact on the MCU; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and Agent Carter has featured characters from the movies, but to the best of my knowledge, aside from a small appearance from James D’Arcy in Endgame (that has no impact on the plot), nobody has gone the other way.  Something that I understand is set to change.  In an interview with Bloomberg Marvel chief Kevin Feige said: “If you want to understand everything in future Marvel movies, he says, you’ll probably need a Disney+ subscription, because events from the new shows will factor into forthcoming films such as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” I was always disappointed that none of the key characters from the TV shows made it into the movies, but am not sure this isn’t a step too far.  Below is a quick synopsis of the shows and what I thought of the ones I watched:

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (2013 – 2020) – S.H.I.E.L.D recruit new agents, have personal problems, and save the world numerous times, all under the watch of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) resurrected from the dead following the events of The Avengers. I watched this from the start.  The events of Captain America, The Winter Soldier threw them a real curveball that derailed the plot.  Surprisingly they recovered from this and the series improved.  They have also had some memorable antagonists; Kyle MacLachlan, Powers Boothe, and Bill Paxton.  It was also the first time I had seen the amazing Ruth Negga.  I gave up early in the sixth season.  I understand there will be a seventh and final season next year. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

Agent Carter (2015-2016) – After the end of WWII, British Agent  Peggy Carter is working in America for Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), a forerunner to S.H.I.E.L.D.  She is mostly relegated to secretarial duties while the men in the office haplessly blunder around.  This series took forever to make it to the UK, I eventually saw it on Amazon, after it had been cancelled.  I watched both series, the pacing is a little up and down, but the period setting looks great and Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy make likeable leads. Agent Carter

Daredevil (2015 -2018) – The first of the MCU shows made by Netflix.  Charlie Cox stars as Matt Murdock a blind lawyer who uses his superhuman senses to moonlight as the crime fighting masked vigilante Daredevil.  The first season was excellent, but lost its way in the second before returning for a fantastic third and final season.  I binged all three seasons as soon as they came out. Daredevil

Jessica Jones (2015 – 2019) – The second Netfix show: Following a short stint as a superhero, with a tragic ending, Jessica Jones reinvents herself as a New York private detective with a drink problem.  Running for just 39 episodes over three seasons, this was my favourite  Marvel TV show.  Krysten Ritter was perfectly cast as the snarky, sarcastic lead, the supporting cast was also great.  The stories, particularly season one were amongst the strongest too.  As with Daredevil, I binged them all!Jessica Jones

Luke Cage 2016 – 2018 – Having already been introduced in Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) gets his own show.  Reluctant hero Cage is a former convict with superhuman strength and unbreakable skin.  Set in Harlem with a largely African American cast, the series made a refreshing change to the usual super hero shows and movies.  The villains are excellent, particularly Alfre Woodard, and a pre Oscar Mahershala Ali.  The supporting cast includes the always excellent Rosario Dawson, reprising her role from Daredevil.  It ran for 26 episodes over two seasons, I watched them all and largely enjoyed it.  The first season started really well but lost its way, the second season was up and down.  Luke Cage

Marvels Inhumans (2017) – I understand the plot goes something like this: After a military coup, the Inhuman Royal Family escape their home on the dark side of the moon, to Hawaii.  They must put aside personal differences to save the world!  The first two episodes were shot in IMAX and screened in cinemas.  I didn’t get around to seeing them, but understand they are terrible.  I didn’t bother with the series, and it seems no one else did either, it bombed and was swiftly cancelled, the eight completed episodes were retiled a mini-seriesMarvels Inhumans

Iron Fist (2017 – 2018) – The weakest of the Netflix shows.  Finn Jones plays Danny Rand, A young man who returns to New York after being presumed dead for fifteen years following a plane crash. Rand has heightened martial arts abilities, and the ability to call upon the mystical power of the Iron Fist.  The character isn’t very well written, and the plots are less engaging than those  in the other series.  It is helped by a strong supporting cast most notably Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing.  I watched all 23 episodes (across two seasons) but took longer over it than any other Netfix/MCU show.  As a side note Danny Rand appears as a supporting character in a few episodes of Luke Cake, and works better as a supporting character. Iron Fist

The Defenders 2017 –  Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, join forces to fight a common enemy, the Hand.  It was been suggested that it was the least-viewed Marvel Netflix following mixed reviews and word of mouth.  I enjoyed it and watched all eight episodes in quick succession. the defenders

The Punisher (2017 – 2019) – The final MCU/Netflix show.  Probably the most consistently excellent MCU show, and at its best it is as good as Jessica Jones, and Daredevil.   Jon Bernthal plays Frank Castle a former cop turned vigilante “the Punisher”, after the loss of his family.  First introduced in Daredevil, the first season goes back to tell the well trodden origin of the character.  The second season is actually better.  Another show that deserves more than the 26 episodes it got. The Punisher

Marvel’s Runaways (2017 – 2020) The plot (copied from wikipedia):  “Six teenagers from different backgrounds unite against a common enemy – their criminal parents” sounds interesting.  There are twenty episodes to date, with a final season of ten due out later this month.  I haven’t seen any of them yet, but may get around to it. Radio On

Cloak & Dagger (2018 – 2019) The unsung hero of the MCU TV.  Two very different teenagers  with seemingly unconnected powers find they are more effective when working together.  An excellent show that combines all the tropes of a teen romance, with a superhero show.  Sadly cancelled in the Disney+ cull of competing Marvel properties, it deserves a third and final season.  It has been rumoured that stars, Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph are reprising their characters in the supporting cast of the final season of Runaways, another reason to catch up with it.AUBREY JOSEPH, OLIVIA HOLT

So what does Disney+ have planned for us to replace everything that has been cancelled?  The following shows have all been slated and are at various stages of production.

  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Filming – due: late 2020)
  • WandaVision (Filming -Due: early 2021)
  • Loki (Pre Production – Due 2021)
  • What If…? (In Production (animated) – Due: 2021)
  • Hawkeye (Ordered – Due: 2021/2022)
  • Ms. Marvel (Ordered – Due: TBA)
  • Moon Knight (Ordered – Due: TBA)
  • She-Hulk (Ordered – Due: TBA)

The interesting thing, the first three are only set to have six episode first seasons.  Is this because they are so expensive, or are Disney spreading their properties too thinly?  Are they a toe in the water before a longer full season is ordered, or are has this just been misreported? Given the level of the MCU movies, I expect the new shows to be top quality.  I’m just not convinced cancelling excellent shows that still have millage in them the best way to do it.  Maybe there is truth to the rumour of a Disney+ reprieve for Jessica Jones and Daredevil! 

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There is a line in Tim Burtons 1989 incarnation of Batman where Batman tells Joker “I made you, you made me first”.  This is one of the clearest examples in movies of how the characters need each other.  Without an adversary, they are just mad men in costumes, they give each other purpose, and giver the films a narrative.  Jack Napier as the person who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, then later became the Joker is an invention of the Movie. The symbiotic nature of the Batman/Joker relationship is perfect; as is the Heath Ledger incarnation in The Dark Knight (2008).  We don’t know the origin of this version of the character, he tells just appears fully formed as a character.  At various points in the film, Joke tells different, conflicting stories about the scars on his face.  When arrested,  Gordon describes  what they know about him, nothing! “No matches on prints, DNA, dental. Clothing is custom, no labels. Nothing in his pockets but knives and lint. No name. No other alias.”

By the this point, there are so many Joker origin stories, who knows what is or isn’t canon.  In his comic books, the character was created in the 1940’s by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson (who is mainly responsible has been disputed).  Starting life as a criminal mastermind, intended for a single issue, he became a mainstay.  As the Comics Code Authority came into effect in the 1950’s be became less of a psychopath, and more of a prankster, before returning to darker roots in the 70’s and 80’s.  The idea of Joker as a failed comedian came from Alan Moore’s seminal The Killing Joke (2008).The Killing Joke

The One thing, they all have in common, is Batman.  Even when Joke is the focus of the story, his nemesis Batman is there, until now!  This new incarnation director Todd Phillips (who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver), is Batman free, we do see a young Bruce Wayne, and yet another death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, but no man dressed as a bat.  This is cleary a story without Batman, and it wouldn’t work with Batman.  Joker would be a different character, and the film would be very different with Batman.  The Martin Scorsese inspiration is clear, particularly Taxi Driver (1976), and The King of Comedy (1983), this gives a more gritty reality than we have ever seen in a movie of this type, even Christopher Nolan’s trilogy.  The echoes of  Rupert Pupkin we see it the character of Arthur Fleck are emphasised by the inclusion of Robert De Niro who appears in Joker in what is essentially the Jerry Lewis role from The King of Comedy.

By the time I had seen the film, it had something of a critical rollercoaster; winning the Golden Lion  and Graffetta d’Oro Venice Film Festival, and a series of four and five star reviews were followed by a backlash of its portrayal of mental illness, and a sympathetic portrayal of a homicidal maniac. There was then a backlash against the backlash.  Whatever your thoughts on the film, there are two things that are hard to argue: Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic as Arthur Fleck, and the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is sensational.  Ultimately I think the film is really good, but not excellent, I can’t help thinking those who love it are blinded by how different it is to a typical DC movie, and those that don’t like it are concerned by the controversy, or sniffy about its comic book origins. Joker

As to the question, Can there be a Joker without Batman? that is something history will tell us.  The film is intended as a standalone story.  As this it works, and as a viewer, we can see a world in which a character like Batman could exist, we are seeing a cities decent into the crime ridden place we have seen in other Batman movies.  We see Jokers decent into madness, and his total disconnection with reality, but we don’t see a fully formed criminal mastermind.  This is where it needs to be left, lefty for the viewers imagination.  If however, the studio decide to catch in (at the time of publishing the world Box-office had topped $770million) it will dilute the story and have a negative impact on the original film.  Indications they are that Warner Bros intend leave Joker as a single film,  but will “launch DC Black” a series standalone films with a darker tone, based on DC Comics but not related to the DCEU. To put it another way, Joker as a character can work without Batman, but the film Joker can ONLY work without Batman, and not as a precurser to a Batman Movie.  

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It was recently announced that Jill Soloway has been hired to write and direct an adaptation of Red Sonja, a film that seems to have been in development forever!  Robert Rodriguez announced at Comic-Con in 2008 that he intended to make a version of the story with then partner Rose McGowan is the title role.   He never got beyond a poster and concept art.  It was reported a couple of years later that he had failed to raise the required funding to get the movie off the ground.  The  underperformance of Conan the Barbarian (2011) probably didn’t help.  Then in 2011, Empire reported that Simon West (Con Air) had been hired to direct and Amber Heard was favourite for the lead ahead of Megan Fox and Rachel Nichols.  I haven’t heard anything since.Rose McGowan Red Sonja

I don’t know much about Jill Soloway whose writing and directing seems to be more TV than film.  The most notable thing about the appointment is that Soloway appears to be the first woman who has been linked with the job.  It seems something of a no-brainer to appoint a female director to helm the story of a strong woman.  The comic book as has been written by women for several years now, Gail Simone since 2013 and Amy Chu since 2017; more about that later.

This isn’t the first time the character has been filmed, Red Sonja (1985) was directed by Richard Fleischer and starred Brigitte Nielsen in the title role, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a supporting role that was Conan in all but name (for contractual reasons), Schwarzenegger got top billing (probably also for contractual reasons)!  A year earlier Fleischer had made Conan the Destroyer with Schwarzenegger.  Sadly the film isn’t very good, largely due to weak script and bad acting. Red Sonja 1985

The character of Sonja is often credited as being created by Robert E. Howard, which is technically true, but the character owes as much if not more her comic book creators.  Red Sonya of Rogatino appeared in Robert E. Howard’s pulp short story “The Shadow of the Vulture” originally published in The Magic Carpet Magazine, January 1934. The story was a fictional story set in set in the 16th century around the real life Battle of Mohács and the Siege of Vienna in 1529.   Starting as a supporting character, she didn’t appear until  Chapter four of seven, she then became the co-lead for the rest of the story.  Fans of her comic book persona will be familiar with her famous scale mail bikini, but the character described by Howard dresses very differently:

“It was a woman, dressed as Von Kalmbach not seen even the dandies of France dressed. She was tall splendidly shaped, but lithe. From under a steel Escape rebellious stresses that rippled red gold in the sun over A compact shoulders. High boots of Cordovan leather came to her mid-thighs, which were cased in baggy breeches. She wore a shirt fine Turkish mash-mail tucked into her breeches. Her supple waist was confined by a flowing sash of green silk, into which with thrust a brace of pistols and a dagger, and from which depended along Hungarian Sabre. Overall was carelessly throwing a scarlet cloak.”shadowofthevulture

In 1973 Roy Thomas and Barry Smith re-imagined the character introducing her into the Conan Comics.  Published by Marvel Comics, her first appetence came in Conan the Barbarian #23.  The story was largely the same as The Shadow of the Vulture but transposing it to the Hyborian Age and with Conan taking the place of Gottfried von Kalmbach.  Shortly after this, artist Esteban Maroto is credited with creating “metal bikini” look when he submitted “an un-commissioned illustration” for Savage Sword of Conan that he considered to resemble other female characters of the time.  After a couple of years of guest appearances in Conan comics, she had her own publication that is still going today following a couple of reboots. Marvel_Feature_1_(1975)

Some of the historic storytelling is a little problematic with.  In one version of her origin, her family is killed and she is brutally raped.  The red goddess Scáthach appears to her, and gives her the strength and skill to get her revenge.  The ability came with the condition that she never lie with a man unless he defeats her in fair combat. Gail Simone rebooted the character in 2013, in this series , Sonja was neither raped, nor received her ability from a goddess, thus not making her vow of chastity.  Instead she learned to fight as a gladiator.  Her appearance that many may find problematic is brushed away in one of her early stories; when told: “Your armour, woman – it scarcely protects your modesty, let alone your vitals” she responds: “men are easily distracted. Most of them never even noticed my sword… Until their heads roll off their neck’s.”wonder woman gal gadot

What can we expect from a Red Sonja movie?  With over 40 years of comic books to work with there is plenty of stories within the source material.  As with the MCU, the best approach will be to develop a new story within the character from the comics, but not faithfully adapt a story.  I would also suggest we jump right into a fully fledged character, we have seen far too many origin stories in recent years. No word on casting yet.  It is crucial they get it right.  At 6’1″ Brigitte Nielsen looked the part in the earlier film, but didn’t have the acting ability to deliver the lines.  When Wonder Woman was cast a few years ago, there were fan suggestions for Gina Carano.  While she would have been great at the action, Gal Gadot is the better actress and is surprisingly perfect in the role.  I like the idea of an unknown actor getting the part, but suspect a studio will want/need a big name to sell the film.  And that will be the tricky thing.  Films like this worked in the 70’s and 80’s on a tiny budget, but haven’t fared as well as blockbusters.  And that is what it needs to be, a blockbuster.  Following the end of Game of Thrones, and the appetite it has created, there is probably no better time for a new sword-and-sandal’s franchise. 

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Captain Marvel has some great 90’s songs on the soundtrack:

  • Crazy on You – Heart
  • Kiss Me Deadly – Lita Ford
  • Whatta Man – Salt-N-Pepa ft. En Vogue
  • Connection – Elastica
  • Only Happy When It Rains – Garbage
  • Crush With Eyeliner – R.E.M.
  • Waterfalls – TLC
  • You Gotta Be – Des’ree
  • Come As You Are – Nirvana
  • Just A Girl – No Doubt
  • Man on the Moon – R.E.M.
  • Celebrity Skin – Hole

But as pointed out by The Empire Podcast, Carol Danvers wouldn’t know them if she heard them.  In his second outing, The Winter Soldier, Captain America kept a notebook where he made note of things he had missed in the near 60 years he was frozen.  At the time I ran a Blogathon where participants recommended movies made between 1943 and 2011.  I don’t have time to run a Blogathon, so am just making my own recommendations this time, my favourite albums from 1989 to 1995:

1989199019911992199319941995

I chose six for each year simply because they fitted in the grid better than five.  Most years I could have come up with ten!  If I was struggling to choose, I favoured albums I loved at the time over ones I discovered later.  Here are a few bonus picks that didn’t make the top six but I didn’t want to omit:Bonus Picks

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I’m sure you all know about The Bechdel Test.  In its simplest form there are three criteria:

  1. The movie has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man

I have never stopped to consider how the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) fares under this criteria, probably not that well simply for its lack of significant female characters.  As phase three comes to an end, the two most significant women in the MCU are about to meet. thor-captain-marvel-endgame-1200x676

It’s taken the MCU ten years and twenty movies to give a female character a leading role.  Even the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) managed it more quickly with Wonder Woman (2017) being the fourth, and best (some may say the only good) of their movies.  Fortunately this will all be forgotten as Captain Marvel is very good and performing well at the box-office.  However, this puts the sexual politics of the MCU in a precarious place.  They have introduced a character that billed as the most powerful Avenger, a character anyone could be jealous of.  If you have seen the mid credit sequence in Captain Marvel, or the trailer for Avengers Endgame, you will know that Carol Danvers and Natasha Romanoff are about to meet.  How they react to each other is more significant than anyone has given it credit for.  star lord thor

Peter Quill’s jealousy of Thor when they meet is classic Hollywood, except the protagonists are usually two rival women.  As a scenario it is funny, partly for how it is played, but mainly because it is unusual  to see two men react in such a way.  Any amusement or progressive about this would be undone should Danvers and Romanoff react to each other in a similar way.  Let’s hope the writers, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo have considered this and the charters hit it off immediately.     

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Warning Contains Spoilers

This is not a review of Captain Marvel, but will contain opinions on the film and plot details (for Captain Marvel and other movies).  My greatest fear for the character is that she will turn into Superman.  Not that she will turn into a man (the original comic book Captain Marvel aka Mar-Vell was a man), although that would also be a disaster, there are proportionally far too many men in superhero movies!  The issue is that Superman’s power and ability are too great, and any real peril he faces is by definition contrived.  Captain-Marvel-international-poster-1724182

Captain Marvel is the trickiest of things in a comic book movie, an origin story.  On this level it works well, concentrating on one small time period, by the end of the movie we realise these few days are not the exactly the origin of the character but Carol Danvers rebirth as Captain Marvel.  The film is at its best when it is a mismatched buddy movie with Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson as Danvers and Nick Fury (brilliantly, digitally de-aged).  It has fun with its 90’s setting rather than revel in it, and has some great music cues.  The plot doesn’t always go where you expect, and is largely satisfying.  The cgi heavy final act isn’t as strong as the rest of the movie, but does at least depart from the overused rehash that so many comic book movies use as a fallback.  Larson is perfect casting playing the part with just enough cynicism and cockiness with a constant wry grin.  All in all, it is a fun introduction to the character.Captain Marvel nick fury

But anyone who has seen the film will know, by the end Carol Danvers looks like she could kick Superman’s ass!  This type of power is an ongoing problem in making Superman movies interesting.  Around five years after the introduction of Superman in comic books, creator Jerry Siegel came up with an “Achilles’ heel” that would weaken him, Kryptonite.  In Superman II (1981), Superman III (1983) and Superman Returns (2006), the character is all powerful and indestructible until the use of Kryptonite levels the playing field for a while.  Superman II (1981) is possibly the best movie to feature the character as it pits him against adversaries of similar ability to Superman.  the other contender for the best Superman movie was the 1978 Richard Donner origin story.  This has the same advantage as Captain Marvel; as an origin story it spends a lot of time in Smallville not needing to de-power Superman.

Both the power Captain Marvel exhibits and the events of the film result in a situation with only one possible outcome, she had to leave earth and stay away from the MCU until the events of the first twenty movies had played out.  If you are reading this you have most likely seen the film and stayed for the scene during the closing credits.  It comes as no great surprise that Danvers returns following Nick Fury’s pager message.  This sets the scene for her involvement in Avengers: Endgame, which is sure to be significant.  More than that, has probably been planned for some time.  When all else has failed, she is the obvious choice to take on Thanos.  But where does her cinematic future lie?

One of my favourite MCU movies is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The film is very much like a 70’s conspiracy thriller, it does have a plot problem.  The final act is a typical MCU (or DCEU for that matter) movie, with a large object above a major city threatening the safety of said city, or even the world.  As part of the inevitable heroics to save the day by The Avengers, Sam Wilson aks Falcon has to perform tasks that are near impossible, but that would have been easy for Iron Man (even easier for Captain Marvel).  This isn’t much of an issue when you are watching the film excitement of the movie, but the more you think about it the more glaring the contrivances are. Captain-America-Winter-Soldier-captain-america-38170916-2880-1800

So does this limit Carol Danver/Captain Marvel’s involvement in the MCU to intergalactic adventures (we have the Guardians of the Galaxy for that), and stepping in when all else is lost?  Given the tendency  to give the main characters three of their own movies, they will need to find at least two more stories to tell.  The MCU’s record with sequels isn’t great, Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World are poor movies.  All the other second movies in a series are inferior to the first, all except one, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the best of the Captain America movies and  possibly the best MCU movie.  Given the usual pattern of releases the next instalment should be two or three years away. 

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The Bat-Man, created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger first appeared in Detective Comics #27, in 1939.  Described as the World’s Greatest Detective, and written in the style of the pulp crime novels and comic books of the day.  He soon became the Batman we know today.  But why am I writing about this now? You may have heard that Ben Affleck has hung up his cowl and cape for the final time, he will not appear in The Batman, a film originally announced in 2014 for release around, well, now!  The story appears to have gone through many changes, and is now slated for a summer 2021 release.  DC/Warner are describing the film as “character-driven” and “stylistically noir”, this gives an opportunity for a more interesting Batman, a period set movie.  There is no word on casting yet, but that isn’t a major concern as they have never really got the casting wrong; Michael Keaton, Christian Bale were in the best films.  Val Kilmer was a strange choice but OK in a poor film.  We will never know how good or bad George Clooney could have been, no one could have saved that film!  And Ben Affleck was actually good, all be it, in two terrible films.  It’s all about getting the story right. DC no 27 1939

There are multiple reasons for setting the film in the past, most notably, it will take it away from the Justice League.  Just as importantly, as the gaps between reboots gets ever smaller, it is a close as possible treat one of the most recognisable properties as a new character.  When it could be set is not limited by when it was created: Prohibition (1920-1933) was the golden age of gangsters; the war years could incorporate more of a spy story, as could the cold war years.  The other reason for the setting the movie in the past is simple, style.  Imagine a Batmobile based on a sleek 1940’s car!  Or even the gadgets! Give Batman things that exist today, with a throwaway line about how everyone will be using them in a few years.  This gets over the issue that Batman and so many other film and TV, Like Star Trek have; gadgets often look ridiculously unrealistic when we first see them, and horribly dated a generation later. Batmobile.jpg

Setting a comic book film in the past isn’t a big stretch, it isn’t as if it hasn’t been done before; The Shadow (1994) and The Phantom (1996), both set in the 1930’s are fun but flawed.  The Rocketeer (1991), aslo set in the late 30’s is a really fun film that stands up really well today.  More recently  Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), and Wonder Woman (2017), largely set during WWII and WWI respectively, are both brilliant.  We can also look at Tim Burton’s take on Batman (1989), it has a sort of timeless period look; Gotham City, benefiting from being a studio backlot set is a mix of German Expressionism and Art Deco design.  The cars are mostly from the 70’s.  The Gangsters dress like they are from the 30’s and carry Thompson submachine guns, the cops look like they are from the 40’s or 50’sgotham 1989

Finally we need a villain.  Every comic book movie succeeds or fails on how good the bad guy is. There have been four great Batman movies to date (in my opinion – other opinions are welcome, but wrong) Batman (1989) Batman Returns (1992), Batman Begins (2005), and The Dark Knight (2008).  They all had one common denominator, a great villain, or two.  If setting film in the past, you not only need to make the villain fit the hero, but also the era of the film.  This isn’t an issue for Batman as most of the best villains were created years ago.  The antagonist needs to a recognisable one, so not too much of a deep-dive that only fanboys will get. Any reboot, needs to avoid The Joker; we have had two great versions of him, and there is a new stand alone Joker on the way too.  Two-Face has been done twice now in recent years, let’s give him a rest.  The Penguin was done so well in Batman Returns, it would be a big ask to do him again.  The Riddler would be an excellent choice if someone could make him work the way Heath Ledger did with the Joker.  I would say it’s too soon to use Ra’s al Ghul, but he could work well in a period setting.  Finally three that haven’t been used in a live action movie: Mad Hatter, Black Mask, and Hugo Strange. Ra's al Ghul Mad Hatter Black Mask and Hugo Strange

We all know that DC and Warner will play it safe and give us the standard reboot, just as long as we don’t have another origin, I think we have all seen Martha and Thomas get killed too many times!

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We lost Stan Lee this week at the age of 95.  Many people first became aware of him from his cameo’s in Marvel movies, but his impact on popular culture goes far beyond that:  For better or worse, make your own mind up; without Stan Lee we probably wouldn’t be seeing all the comic book movies that are dominating cinema screens.  Like many people I first became aware of him from the animated shows of the 1980’s.  These animated show were the start of a push to develop Marvel properties into other media.  Initial results were mixed at best but eventually led to what we now know as the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Stan Lee 1922 2018

But it all started before that, growing up Lee born (Stanley Martin Lieber) loved swashbuckling movies, and dreamt of becoming a novelist.  One of his earliest jobs as a writer came writing obituaries before at the age of 17 a family connection got him a job as an assistant at Timely Comics, the precursor Marvel Comics was at the time a new division of a pulp magazine.

Lee’s first job actually writing in a comic book came with the text fillers for Captain America Comics #3 in 1941.  This was the first time he used the pseudonym Stan Lee, which later became his legal name.  Before long he moved from fillers to writing the backup feature, “‘Headline’ Hunter, Foreign Correspondent”.

His early creations Jack Frost, Father Time, and Destroyer may not be household names now, but things were about to change.  At the age of just 19 Lee was made interim editor, a position that quickly became permanent, one that he remained in for just over thirty years before becoming Publisher.  After the war, were Lee served in first the Signal Corps, and then the Training Film Division, he formed a partnership with artist Jack Kirby, together they created a few characters you may have heard of: the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Panther, Ant-Man, and the Fantastic Four. x men fantastic four thor iron man black panther hulk ant man

He also created Daredevil with Bill Everett. And with Steve Ditko with, Doctor Strange and his (and Marvel’s most successful character) Spider-Man. Doctor Strange Daredevil Spider-man

As significant as the characters they created, in 1963 gathered them together along with some older character, most notably Captain America to create the  Avengers, a rival to DC’s Justice League (originally Justice League of America). With various reboots, relaunches, spin-offs, alternate universes, and ever changing line-up, The Avengers have been a constant fixture within the comic book world.     The Avengers

In 1981 Lee moved from New York to California in 1981 to develop Marvel’s movie and TV, while the live action of these were forgettable at best, the cartoons introduced a whole new generation to Marvel.  They also provided the springboard of what was to come.  The success of Blade for New Line Cinema, X-Men with Fox Studio’s and Sony’s Spider-Man movies proved there was a market for quality comic book movies that snowballed into the MCU, and who knows where that will take us? Excelsior!

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